Citroen C4 Cactus review
The Citroen C4 Cactus features bold styling and a comfortable ride - and there's plenty of kit, too
The Citroen C4 Cactus represents a return to form for the French manufacturer – it’s the kind of fun, funky and unusual car for which the company was once famous.
In the past, Citroens were always soft and soothing, and with the C4 Cactus the focus has been placed very much on comfort. It’s relaxing to drive and, although it doesn’t have the sharp-edged handling of some other supermini-based SUVs, it’s still fun to hustle down a country road. The three-cylinder engines provide more punch than their power outputs might suggest, too.
The C4 Cactus is priced attractively, but some of the interior plastics feel a bit low rent. There’s no option of 4x4, either, so the Cactus is less adventurous than it looks.
On paper, the Citroen C4 Cactus looks like yet another crossover following in the footsteps of the hugely popular Nissan Juke, but it offers more than the smaller Nissan, focusing on reducing weight and improving fuel economy as well as comfort, rather than sporty handling.
Although production started in 2014, the stylish Citroen was loosely previewed all the way back in 2007 with the C-Cactus show car. That model’s hybrid drivetrain has not made it into the C4 Cactus, however.
The Cactus is similar in size to the Citroen C4 family hatchback (hence the name), but it’s actually based on the smaller C3. There’s still lots of space on offer, although the real headline is the Cactus’ quirky design.
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With bold exterior styling and a hi-tech interior featuring two screens instead of a dashboard covered in buttons, the Citroen is less conventional and more individual in a class of identikit rivals. Arguably its most noticeable feature is the deformable plastic Airbump panelling on the doors, designed to soak up car park scrapes.
In spite of its chunky appearance, the C4 Cactus weighs in at 200kg less than the C4 hatchback, so it provides decent agility. It also means strong performance from a range of engines made up mostly of PureTech petrol three-cylinders, with one four-cylinder diesel.
The final benefit of cutting the kerbweight is improved fuel economy. Go for the most efficient engine in the range – the 99bhp 1.6-litre BlueHDi turbodiesel – and Citroen claims up to 91.1mpg is possible, along with 82g/km CO2 emissions, meaning free road tax.
As the C4 Cactus is based on the PF1 platform design of the C3, it only comes with front-wheel drive. An automatic option is available on the mid-range PureTech 82 petrol model, but all other versions get a five-speed manual gearbox.
Buyers have a choice of three trim levels: Touch, Feel and Flair. Even the entry-level Touch is well equipped, featuring a seven-inch colour touchscreen, cruise control and DAB radio with steering wheel control as standard.
Feel spec adds Bluetooth connectivity, air-con, 16-inch alloy wheels and roof bars in gloss black with matching door mirrors. The Flair brings 17-inch alloys, as well as ‘cornering’ foglights, dark-tinted rear glass, automatic air-con, a parking camera and sensors, plus the top-level Navigation and Hi-Fi Packs.
Engines, performance and drive
On the road, the C4 Cactus is a relaxing cruiser. The suspension does a fair job of ironing out rough surfaces, although big bumps do tend to thump through into the cabin. The soft suspension also means there’s a bit of roll in corners, but this is the trade-off for the Cactus’ smooth ride and it’s not particularly serious.
There’s decent grip and on country roads the Citroen is enjoyable to drive. It’s also quieter than many of its rivals at motorway speeds, but unfortunately it’s a bit of a letdown in town. The main culprit is the five-speed gearbox, as its widely spaced ratios mean you have to quite a lot of forward planning; it’s all too easy to find yourself in the wrong gear at the wrong time where the engines don’t have much go.
This would be fine if the gearshift was positive, but the lever is spongy, so shifting feels like a chore. However, the C4 Cactus has sharp brakes, and stops well – again, helped by the 200kg cut from the Citroen’s weight.
The C4 Cactus is offered with a range of small-capacity petrol and diesel engines, and topping the range is the four-cylinder 1.6 BlueHDi. It delivers 99bhp and 250Nm of torque, which doesn’t sound like much, but provides reasonable performance thanks to the Cactus’ low weight. We’ve managed to sprint from 0-60mph in 11.3 seconds during our tests, although Citroen claims 10.7 seconds for 0-62mph is possible, along with a top speed of 114mph.
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The rest of the line-up comprises three-cylinder petrol engines. Power outputs start from 74bhp in the entry-level PureTech 75 version, which promises 0-62mph in 12.9 seconds and a 106mph top speed. It’s only fitted to the Touch model, but it provides the same 118Nm of torque as the more widely available 81bhp PureTech 82, and the performance differential is marginal.
The 108bhp PureTech 110 version of the three-cylinder petrol (fitted with stop/start tech) claims 0-62mph in 9.3 seconds and a maximum speed of 117mph.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
Citroen claims that the C4 Cactus will cost around 20 per cent less to run than a traditional family hatchback – although it doesn’t explain its calculations fully. It’s talking primarily about fuel economy, but the Airbump panels could potentially save you money on having small bodywork scratches and bumps repaired, while the low weight is likely to bring lower bills for consumables like tyres and brake pads in the long run.
The most fuel-efficient C4 Cactus is the BlueHDi 100 diesel, which uses ultra-low-rolling-resistance tyres to achieve an incredible 91.1mpg fuel economy and CO2 emissions of just 82g/km. However, if you upgrade from the standard wheels to 17-inch alloys, fuel returns drop to 83mpg and emissions increase to 89g/km. You have to pay for the potential savings up front, of course, as the engine is the most expensive powertrain option in both the Feel and Flair trim levels.
The petrol engines aren’t far behind on economy, though, with even the most powerful PureTech 110 three-cylinder turbo claiming 60.1mpg and 107g/km.
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The 81bhp PureTech 82 is the most frugal of the petrol engines; in Feel spec with stop/start and an automatic transmission, it promises up to 66mpg and 98g/km of CO2. Specify a manual gearbox with the same engine, and emissions increase to 105g/km CO2 – meaning you’ll have to pay £20 a year for road tax – while economy drops to 61mpg.
The entry-level PureTech 75 Touch claims 61mpg, too, and it’s in the same £20-a-year band B for road tax.
To make the C4 Cactus more accessible to buyers, Citroen offers a number of all-inclusive purchase packages. These combine a finance payment, insurance and servicing costs into a single monthly figure.
There’s quite a spread of insurance groups across the C4 Cactus line-up. The entry-level PureTech 75 Touch comes in at group 9, and the only way to find cheaper insurance with this car will be to plump for the automatic PureTech 82. Its ponderous performance earns a group 7 rating. The rest of the three-cylinder petrols range from group 10 to 16, while the four-cylinder BlueHDi diesel Flair is likely to have the highest annual premiums in the line-up, as it sits in insurance group 18. Equivalent versions of the Nissan Juke deliver similar performance, so it’s perhaps not surprising that they’re in the same ballpark when it comes to insurance costs.
Citroen doesn’t have a marvellous record on depreciation, and don’t expect the C4 Cactus to buck the trend – at least not by much. While a standard C4 hatchback could lose as much as 70 per cent of its value over three years, the Cactus is likely to shed two-thirds of its new price.
Interior, design and technology
One thing’s for sure, the C4 Cactus is a car that embraces the Citroen brand’s quirky past, and its proportions are starkly different to its class rivals’. While the raised suspension is similar, the low roof, long wheelbase and rounded nose give this car a unique look.
The front end takes some inspiration from the C4 Picasso, with high-set LED running lights, while the main headlamps are part of large plastic housings, and the air intakes are positioned low on the nose. Further back, the rounded wheelarches feature plastic extensions, and behind this the sides of the car incorporate one of its big talking points – the Airbump panels.
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These are a first in any class, and far from being just a design feature, Citroen claims they’ll protect the bodywork from car park dings and paint scrapes.
The Airbumps are actually made from rubberised plastic cladding featuring air pockets that help to minimise impacts from other car doors. Like big bubble wrap for cars, the panels are available in four colours (depending on body colour), so you can customise the look of your C4 Cactus, while the plastic cladding front and rear matches the Airbump panels.
At the rear, the flat tail features a large slab of plastic across the tailgate; it would look rather plain without it. Other design highlights include the substantial roof bars, while the optional red wing mirror housings and C-pillar stripes add a bit of colour.
Those C-pillars appear thick from the outside, although they don’t spoil over-the-shoulder visibility. A variety of shades is on offer, with buyers able to personalise their cars to a fair extent. You can go for a subdued colour or a vibrant finish to show off the Citroen’s unusual design elements.
Inside, the Cactus takes inspiration from the upmarket DS range, and features a stylish layout that has a premium feel. There are asymmetric air vents on the centre console, a top-opening glovebox, luggage handle-inspired door pulls, a seven-inch touchscreen and a smart-looking oblong readout ahead of the driver.
The seats are comfortable, although the driving position is surprisingly low, so the Cactus doesn’t feel like a crossover at the wheel. In the back Citroen has fitted a single-piece folding rear bench to help save even more weight, but those clever touchscreens that control the heating, infotainment and other vehicle functions mean the interior feels far from basic.
Some of the plastics used lower down in the cabin look cheap, but everything you touch frequently – steering wheel, gearlever and door pulls, for instance – has a high-quality feel. You get all the essentials, too, such as climate control, Bluetooth connectivity and a DAB radio.
Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment
All C4 Cactus models feature a seven-inch touchscreen, which basically amalgamates many of the ancillary control functions into one space.
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The system includes a standard digital radio, and once you’ve moved up beyond the entry-level model you can enjoy Bluetooth music streaming and Citroen Multicity Connect, which is a 3G and GPS-enabled app-hub. The Flair comes with the Navigation and Hi-Fi Pack, which includes a six-speaker stereo, 16GB Jukebox and ARKAMYS amplifier.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
Inside, the C4 Cactus feels fresh and modern, but that hasn’t come at the expense of passenger space.
The driving position is broadly OK with plenty of room, but some people may find the pedals too closely spaced, while the lack of reach adjustment on the steering column means comfort will be compromised for others. There’s no lumbar adjustment, either, and although the front seats look very comfy, they’re not especially supportive for long trips.
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The top-hinged glovebox means access is easy and the lid won’t bang your passenger’s legs when it’s opened. It’s also pretty big, partly because the passenger airbag has been moved into the roof of the cabin.
At 4,157mm long and 1,946mm wide, the C4 Cactus is quite similar in size to the Nissan Juke. However, the Citroen is 18cm wider, at 1,946mm, which pays dividends for passenger space. The Cactus is also a little lower, at 1,480mm to the Juke’s 1,570mm.
Leg room, head room & passenger space
The low roofline doesn’t hurt headroom, with enough space in the back for taller adults, while there’s plenty of room for lower limbs, too, as the wheelbase is longer than some of the car’s crossover rivals’.
The biggest compromise in the rear is the lack of wind-up windows. Back seat passengers have to make do with hinged glass that pops out for airflow, although they do get spacious door storage bins as a result. The panoramic sunroof option eats into headroom a bit, but definitely improves the airflow in the back on hot days. Isofix child seat mounting points are standard in the rear.
While some rivals feature split-folding back seats, the C4 Cactus is fitted with a one-piece rear bench, so it’s not as versatile as you might hope. Still, the boot has a 358-litre capacity with the rear seats in place, which should be plenty of space for luggage or the family shop.
Fold the seats flat, and this rises to a maximum of 1,170 litres – pretty much on a par with the load bay in the Nissan Juke. The load lip is quite high, though.
Reliability and Safety
Citroen’s vision for the C4 Cactus was to remove anything that wasn’t entirely necessary; by offering pop-out rear windows, fewer buttons on the dash and no adjustability for the gearbox, steering and engine mapping, the company felt there was less that could go wrong.
Even so, the crossover offers most of the kit you’d expect from a thoroughly modern family car. Automated parking, a reversing camera, hill start assist, six airbags, a tyre pressure monitor and cruise control all feature, so there’s still scope for gremlins to take hold.
While the C4 Cactus is a new model, it shares a lot of running gear with other Citroens. It sits on an extended version of the platform that underpins the Citroen C3 supermini and the upmarket DS 3 hatchback, while the standard touchscreen is similar to the one found in the new Peugeot 308.
The new petrol engines are used across the Citroen range, and the BlueHDi is based on existing diesel technology, so it should be reliable.
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The company has been trying hard to shake off its reputation for poor build quality and patchy reliability. It finished 20th in the manufacturers’ chart of our Driver Power 2015 satisfaction survey, which suggests otherwise, until you realise this represents an improvement of six places on the previous year.
Another by-product of cutting 200kg from the kerbweight compared to the C4 hatch is that consumables such as the brake pads and tyres should function better for longer.
Unfortunately, by producing a more simple car, Citroen has achieved a disappointing result in Euro NCAP crash tests. The C4 Cactus scored only four out of five stars in the independent assessments, with a low rating in the safety assist category – the Nissan Juke fares much better in this regard.
Still, the rest of the Citroen’s standard safety kit is well up to the class benchmark, and includes six airbags, stability control and cruise control with a programmable speed limiter.
The C4 Cactus comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty. This isn’t much to shout about when Kia offers a seven-year/100,000-mile package, while the likes of Hyundai and Toyota provide five years’ cover with their new cars. But the Nissan Juke offers a similar warranty from new.
Citroen servicing is usually pretty cost-effective, and the C4 Cactus shouldn’t prove an exception. Dealers offer interest-free payment plans, too, so you can get two or three years’ worth of maintenance with fixed monthly instalments.